Some might presume that AMD and even Qualcomm ARE Intel’s greatest rivals but, in truth, it might be the entire ARM world that has already silently surpassed the PC chipmaker. The ARM instruction set architecture or ISA is what drives many of the world’s devices, from smartphones to routers to IoT to in-vehicle infotainment to supercomputers. ALL of these pay a debt, quite literally, to Arm, formerly ARM Holdings, whose owner Softbank is now reportedly looking for buyers, a list that includes NVIDIA and even Apple.
Given the recent attention that ARM processors got thanks to Apple’s Silicon shift, there has probably been no better time to buy up Arm, or sell it off in the case of Japanese group Softbank. Arm’s business, which involves licensing both chip designs as well as the computer instruction set, has always been a lucrative one. Whether they directly manufacture processors off those designs like MediaTek and Samsung or make their own designs like Qualcomm and Apple, all pay a fee to get their hands on what may be the most ubiquitous CPU architecture in the world.
There will likely be many interested buyers but NVIDIA makes for a rather interesting case. The computer graphics tech giant gave up on consumer ARM-based devices long ago but it does have a presence in automotive computing and AI where ARM has a larger presence than Intel’s processors. Acquiring ARM would definitely make it an even bigger threat not just to Intel but even to Qualcomm, both of whom still have to match NVIDIA’s graphics technology.
Given its new silicon, Apple seems a more likely buyer but, ironically, that also makes it almost impossible. Arm’s core licensing business doesn’t really fit Apple’s business and culture. More importantly, owning Arm would put Apple in a bind as it would have to license the technology to its rivals, potentially placing it in the crosshairs of regulators.
In fact, any company directly related to ARM would be put under scrutiny, NVIDIA included. That could make it harder for tech companies to buy Arm which, in turn, would make it even harder for Softbank to continue its strategy of selling off some of its biggest properties and shares, including Alibaba and T-Mobile US.